Part 8 – The Lords of La Flete

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Discussion and Decisions

When Professor Longden discovered the overwhelming similarities between the 14th century desecration of Heolster Hollow and Victor Gorenhoff’s crimes, he went straight to Broadmoor to discuss the matter with the alienist, Dr Conrad, the man charged with determining whether Gorenhoff was legally insane.

Conrad was sceptical of this historical coincidence, but Longden impressed upon him that, as far as he knew, the events at Heolstor Hollow were only described in the Annals of Waverley Abbey, a ponderous tome that was unavailable to anyone outside academic circles.

Gorenhoff as drawn by Conrad’s sister, Anna Hayes

Conrad then raised an issue that had not occurred to Longden: Gorenhoff claimed to have received all his knowledge from the Leper King, a ghostly figure that had emerged from the waters of the pond at Fleet and who later visited him in dreams. If Gorenhoff could not have obtained the information from mundane sources, Conrad argued, was he truly to believe that they had a supernatural origin?

Longden agreed that this was plainly nonsense. Conrad said Gorenhoff had admitted to having worked as a sailor for many years: perhaps he had overheard or spoken with a learned passenger and thus obtained the story of Heolstor Hollow and the Knights of the Pale Saint.

Longden was dubious. Then Conrad revealed a new development, one that had come from surreptitious observation of Gorenhoff in his cell: each night, in the deep dark before dawn, Gorenhoff could often be heard to be whispering at his window. This, in itself, was not unusual among the patients at Broadmoor – but Gorenhoff was not conversing in English. In fact, Dr Conrad was sure the man was speaking in some form of Slavic language. Surely, if Gorenhoff had managed to learn a foreign language while working as a sailor, Conrad argued, was it not possible that he could have learned the story of Heolstor Hollow, too? And could this knowledge not then have shaped his subsequent crimes?

The two academics decided not to raise this matter in their conversations with Gorenhoff until Longden had explored more of the history: from the Waverley Annals, Longden knew that the knights had leased a piece of land in 1387 that included a freshwater lake named La Flete – a name derived from Norman French which, in turn, had given the town of Fleet its name.

Professor Longden returned to his books.

The Crondall Lease

The first official mention of the freshwater lake known today as Fleet Pond is in 1324, when it is listed in the Rolls of Account of Crondall Manor as an important fishery, although it is certain that the body of water had been created a century earlier, probably by damming an already extant waterway and allowing it to flood an area of lowlands.

Crondall HundredLongden searched through the 14th century records of the Crondall Hundred (which then comprised various parishes and tithings including Aldershot, Crookham, Farnborough, and Yateley) until he found what he sought: in 1387, the Prior of Winchester had leased “pond and pastureland” to “a knightly order of monastic warriors” for a period of 20 years.

However, the records also showed that the knights’ tenure as landlords actually lasted less than four years. What could have happened to effectuate this change in the lease? Longden headed to Winchester to investigate the matter further.

Hue and Cry

Der RitterAs recorded in the Crondall records, the Knights of the Pale Saint – led by their preceptor, Kernan Haustvald – returned from the Baltic Crusades with a vast hoard of treasure bound up in iron lockboxes and, having leased the land, began construction of a three-storey mansion-house of “brick and half-beam three miles north of the lake”.

The inhabitants of the area were initially happy to have a rich order of crusading knights as their neighbours, as it meant there would be plenty of work. Indeed, the knights employed so many labourers, carpenters, stonemasons, and other workmen that construction of the preceptory building and its cellars was completed in less than 18-months.

However, the workmen found the knights to be hard and demanding masters – they barked orders and beat men they deemed to be slacking. Also, there was concern at the strange gargoyles, devils, and other effigies with which the knights chose to adorn the eaves and chimneys of the building’s roofs.

MandrakeBut it was their preceptor, Kernan Haustvald, that inspired most comment. The records of the Crondall Hundred contain a statement from a ditcher who worked on the site: “Their lord came often to review the work, and his presence always seemed to cast a pall over the day’s labour. He wore at all times a mask of pale leather upon his face, which gave him a ghostly and dour air, for his eyes burned fever bright behind it. He rode hunched over the mane of his warhorse and carried with him the stench of stale sweat and foetid flesh”.

Work finished in December of 1388. The workmen collected their final payments and bid a glad farewell to the dark, gloomy mansion the knights had constructed as their preceptory.

Little was seen of the Lords of La Flete after this, and the people of the area were well glad of the fact.

But then, in the spring of 1389, children began to disappear.

Three were snatched from farms in different tithings and hamlets within the space of a week; and by the time word reached the local Bailiff responsible for law enforcement in the Crondall Hundred, a fourth had disappeared from a farm outside Crookham.

Bailiff Hastings – a portly, ruddy-cheeked man who, despite a fondness for alehouses and games of chance, enjoyed a reputation as being fair-minded and competent – ordered “a hue and cry” be raised, as was customary when banditry or murder occurred within his area of authority.

While a group of local men were organised to form a search party, he went to the site of the fourth disappearance and was shown the area in which the child had disappeared. There, he discovered a set of hoofprints in the muddy ground. What struck him immediately was their size – they clearly belonged “not to some farmhand’s nag but to that of a destrier or some other form of warhorse which was well-shoed and stood at least 15 hands at the withers”.

DestrierThe hoofprints led away across Crookham towards the lake of La Flete; and Bailiff Hastings’s thoughts turned to the knights who had so recently come to the previously quiet and peaceful area.

Woe in the Woods

In April of 1389, Bailiff Hastings, two of his constables, and fifty men gathered at dawn in the woodland east of the waters of La Flete. From there, they intended to spread out north and east, across the land leased to the Knights of the Pale Saint.

Bailiff Hastings had previously requested – and received – written permission to search the woodland from the Prior of Winchester, to whom the land actually belonged. At Hastings’s behest, no mention of the search had been made to the tenant-lords.

Among the search party were a number of skilled hunters. These were to serve not only as guides but also as scouts – the knights were known to hunt in the woods, and Bailiff Hastings wanted the presence of the search parties to go unnoticed for two reasons: firstly, he did not want to reveal his suspicions; secondly, he had no doubt the warrior-monks would react angrily if they discovered trespassers on their land, and he feared their anger might give way to violence.

WoodsmanThe men searched all day, covering miles of forest, searching for any trace of the missing children – a scrap of clothing, a discarded doll, a recently dug grave. Most of all, though, Bailiff Hastings wanted to speak to the inhabitants of the woods: the fishermen who worked the lake, the woodsmen, the charcoal burners.

Not a single one of these remained. In every instance, their lonely abodes were abandoned. Forest animals had nosed through the empty dwellings, upturning furniture and bedding, but the flooring of one of the log cabins was clearly stained with blood.

What the search parties did discover, however, were dozens of dead animals scattered throughout the woodland: foxes, dogs, boar, deer. The hoofprints of horses showed they had been hunted, but they had been killed for neither sport nor food. Rather, they had been brought to ground, slaughtered and left to rot, killed for the sole pleasure of killing them. Elsewhere, the search parties found smaller animals that had been mutilated and then left alive: squirrels without their tails, birds with their eyes pricked out.

By early afternoon, the sun had disappeared behind grey clouds and the day had turned cold; mist was rising from the damp earth and many members of the search parties wished to leave the woods before darkness fell.

Richard_II_King_of_EnglandUsing birdcalls to guide them, the hunter-scouts brought the search parties back together, and they made ready to head south, back towards their homes. It was then that Bailiff Hastings realised a man was missing, a young crofter named Edwyn who was uncle to one of the missing children, and that no one had seen him since late morning.

With darkness a few hours away, Hastings gathered as many men as would stay and headed back towards the woods, little suspecting that what he would find there would bring his tiny piece of England to the attention of King Richard II and lead to charges of heresy and witchcraft being brought against the Lords of La Flete . . .

Part 9: Doubts and Derangement

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